Ezra Furman photo by Francesca Nottola

Ezra Furman photo by Francesca Nottola


I first encountered the ‘Ezra Furman’ concept through this picture: feline sunglasses, pearls, lipstick, a falsely shy smile, sinuous pose and a Chanel-styled jacket from the 1960s certainly stolen from my mother. My subconscious went: Mum! My professional superego said: mmm, let’s check this musician out. Then the music came. It was that Marilyn look that made my synapses fire. I am a devotee of the holy Ziggy Stardust and of gladioli-Morrissey because I find people who refuse to wear the compulsory gender straitjacket interesting and attractive. Well, anyone who questions things and challenges what doesn’t fit them is.

Someone who knows Ezra Furman better than me tells me tonight: ‘Dress, lipstick, beads, this is for the show. There’s more than that, the beauty is inside’. So I wonder: 1) what happens off stage? 2) why are you trying to silence my enthusiasm for someone who has made an explicit choice to express himself through lipstick and pearls? I have three hypotheses. One, you are uncomfortable with it. Two, perhaps it is a stage costume adopted because some commercial gurus advised him that this year being a genderfluid bisexual songwriter sells. Three: I don’t know.

Now, the thing is: in 2015, my two male gay friends, a couple, still fear walking hand in hand in Manchester. In 2013, another friend was refused hospitality by her own mother when she revealed that the female friend they were hosting was her girlfriend. In 2014, another friend, a young academic, felt very uncomfortable when her colleagues told homophobic jokes in front of her. These were researchers, lecturers, self-proclaimed ‘intellectuals’ that fill their useless books with quotes from someone else’s ‘cultural theory’ they can’t even understand. And there is Kim Davis. So, it may sell, but it takes guts to say that you are bisexual and genderfluid and wear lipstick and skirts off stage. Many LGBTQ people get mocked, beaten up, abused, killed, expelled by families, strongly encouraged not to be themselves. So, unless the whole ‘Ezra Furman’ concept is a papier mâché construction, that’s one big reason for me to like him. I refuse to believe this is a stage costume because it would be very offensive for the LGBTQ community if he appropriated their struggle to sell goods.

Ezra Furman photo by Francesca Nottola

Ezra Furman photo by Francesca Nottola

Even if Ezra Furman says he is a liar, I’d like to believe that what he said about gender identity and love preferences is true. For me, his beauty comes from that freedom to wear pearls if he wishes, and not to wear them if he wants to look like a boring Tom Cruise. Many people do not have this choice. If Ezra Furman keeps doing it, he can be a role model of self-acceptance and defiance for ‘those kids out there’, so that one day everyone will be able to wear whatever the fuck they want and hold hands in public. Another guy I know was forced by his father to do athletics instead of ballet. That’s what we are talking about: not drag, not Halloween but being true to yourself. Don’t downplay it to me, because this is why I am here tonight. If you are uncomfortable with it, get over it.

And now let’s talk about music. I was not sure why there is so much raving about his live shows. Ezra is big in the UK, but it’s not clear where he stands, in terms of popularity, in Trumplandia. The hype is entirely justified. Why? He can play any genre, he writes fantastic lyrics, he is funny, he has got more energy than all the Duracell bunnies put together, he tours and records with a great band and they seem to have a lot of fun playing together. His personality, his creativity, his emotional and intellectual honesty. He is a great performer and he is very articulate and pleasant to read and listen to. His intelligence is refreshing.

Tonight I saw the history of rock’n’roll/blues/punk/folk catwalking in front of me: Kurt Cobain, Iggy Pop, Jeff Buckley, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Green Day, The New York Dolls, Stephin Merritt, Ramones all put in a blender and served with an entirely Furmanian sauce. One presence, though, dominates: I have never heard a more LouReedish guitar than Ezra Furman’s. I love his eclectic guitar style. He also reminds me of John Lennon for the way he screams sometimes, and the little tricks he plays with his voice make him unique. He did not play it tonight, but just watch the video of ‘Take Off Your Sunglasses’ to see what I mean. Look at his funny faces and how he stretches the word ‘sunglasses’. He dances, he sits on the floor, he jokes, he smiles, he talks about transcendence in the middle of a gig.

Indirectly referring to the Paris attacks, Ezra Furman says that the human need to gather at events that give us joy cannot be crushed, and he links such desire to a universal need for transcendence. As an atheist, I disagree, but I understand. He looks for transcendence, I am happy with the immanent divine connection I feel in this venue tonight. The sense of emptiness and longing I am left with can give you an idea of how addictive the gig was. I did not want the party with the BoyFriends to end (ha, that hyphen, how reassuring). An Ezra Furman gig is a legal high, for now.

The show starts with a slightly faster version of the The Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock & Roll’ that I like more than the original. The setlist includes a mix of the latest album Perpetual Motion People (2015, Bella Union) and Day Of The Dog (2013, Bar/None Records). The next song is the Beatles-ean ‘Anything Can Happen’. Ezra Furman’s lyrics are mostly introspective, brutally honest and often painfully studded with the dark thoughts he has widely discussed. My brain is not a safe place to stay, Ezra Furman says. In ‘At the Bottom of the Ocean’, depression is represented by sea monsters. As it often happens with Furman’s songs, this song (which reminds me so much of U2’s ‘Desire’) has an upbeat tempo and sombre lyrics. Furman’s troubled sense of belonging is further explored in the vintage ‘Lousy Connection’, which also has a fantastic video. Ben Joseph’s second guitar and keyboards are the perfect company to Furman’s guitar, and Sam Durkes delights us with his creative rhythms, lovely solos and brushes. The next song, ‘Walk On In Darkness’, is a mix of Tom Waits and The Aristocats, followed by ‘Can I Sleep In Your Brain’, a Lou-meets-Bowie song about the struggle to find a place to call ‘home’; a delicate, melancholic text. Ezra Furman is also very poetic, for example in ‘And Maybe God Is A Train’. The cinematic sequences he portrays are very vivid, you feel them on your skin, and sometimes you don’t want to be in them and you want to take Ezra’s hand and pull him out.

Ezra Furman by Francesca Nottola

Ezra Furman by Francesca Nottola

It’s almost 10pm and Ezra goes solo with the Dylan-styled ‘Penetrate’, mysterious and a bit disquieting, followed by ‘Down’, from Furman’s first solo album The Year Of No Returning (2012), released thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign boosted by this cute, awkward video. This self-explanatory song, which could very well be, from a musical point of view, a Rufus Wainwright song, is painfully realistic. ‘Haunted Head’ also explores Furman’s anxieties and restlessness (going a bit Lady Gaga in the process). Party time starts with the irresistible ‘Tip Of A Match’, a cheeky blend of Pixies / Weezer / Sweet Jane.  I will not admit defeat, Ezra sings and suggests:

If you feel like the tip of a match,
Then strike yourself
On something rough

How I love those three lines. It’s time for the supercatchy ‘Body Was Made’, whose hilarious video I must have watched about 12,000 times because it makes me smile every time and I love Ezra’s singing in it, especially when he says just fucking relax to the body police. Tim Sandusky’s sax is quite prominent here, and his distortions and the perfect notes with which he enriches the rest of the band’s sound clearly show he knows very well what he’s doing. ‘My Zero’ is another misleading pop jewel because it’s actually a haunting song about heartbreak, like ‘The Mall’. The set continues with ‘I Wanna Destroy Myself’, a classic punk tune with apocalyptic lyrics. This is what Ezra said about punk: I was into punk rock but I couldn’t get into the subcultural signifiers of dyed hair, safety pins and torn denim. Being a punk seemed like a new set of rules that I wasn’t interested in having to follow. I was interested in total freedom. Lovely. Next up is ‘Ordinary Life’, about tote bags, the constant need for novelty and subsequent frustration for the lack of it. The party continues with the ‘Wobbly’ manifesto and its heteronormative hell where, understandably, Ezra doesn’t want to stay. We are approaching the end, with the vintage-filled ‘Restless Year’, featuring Jorgen Jorgensen’s powerful bass and yet another great video. Now it’s that time of the show that The Lovely Eggs are protesting against, the encore ritual. The crowd is impatient and stomps. The boys come back with a cover of Arcade Fire’s ‘Crown of Love’ and they leave us with the rockabilly atmosphere of ‘Tell ‘Em All To Go To Hell’.

I have abundantly disclosed how biased I am. I fully understand Simon Raymonde’s enthusiasm now. Furman’s lyrics are so much more poignant than the Beatles’, so why not welcome him to the hall of fame? His intrinsic outsider status constitutes his main source of inspiration. I wonder what impact this rapidly growing popularity will have on his music. It has to be said, though, that Ezra Furman also has a splendid sense of humour, self-irony and of language that prevents his darkest material from being trite or plain desperate. Does that come from his closeness to Jewish culture and its tradition of comedy? We’ll ask him.

I have a dream. To see Ezra Furman cover David Bowie’s ‘Drive in Saturday’. As Ezra Furman wrote on the Guardian, Bowie paved the way and smashed the door open for all the rainbow kids out there really. Thanks David. Thanks Ezra.

P.S. A special mention goes to the support act The Big Moon. This London-based band is a revelation. These ladies are very young, but are confident and play very well. They propose a fantastic distorted version of Madonna’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’. Two singers, two guitars, a bass and a multitasking drummer/keyboard player, all excellent.

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Photography of the night

Francesca Nottola

I write, translate, edit texts and take pictures. I solve problems for pensioners and create problems to everyone else. Sometimes a history researcher and language tutor, I would happily live in a national archive or in the head of professional musicians. Unfortunately, I say what I think